Tips on Spotting Fake IDs
For the average bartender or bouncer
Over the years, especially the past decade, the U.S and Canadian states and provinces have taken drastic steps to upgrade the security surrounding drivers licenses and other forms of IDs. Some features included on even the most standard license are only visible with special equipment — such as ultra-violet lights or some form of magnification. Other features can be seen with the naked eye, or even by touch.
We could not pretend to amass a concrete set of guidelines or features to look for, as each state takes the security measures into their own hands. There are guides out there for sale to bars or other businesses which are close to comprehensive, but it’s an ever changing subject that must be updated at the very least once a year. In this article we’re going to give you some of the most commonly utilized features to look for and how to spot them.
Some Visible Features:
A lot of features that should be the first things your everyday bartender or bouncer checks are visible with the naked eye. Some of the most common examples being; overlapping data, a transparent image, rainbow/multi-colored printing, fine line patterns, and ghost images. Now, what specifically do these mean and are they applicable to all licenses in the country? To answer the latter, no — all licenses are not the same and all do not carry the same security. To make a standardized level of security would allow for a greater ease in “beating the system” with the manufacturing of fake IDs.
Let’s look at them more individually now; overlapping data refers to the printing of certain fields, such as signatures, text, or even pictures on top of another field. Transparent images are present on some IDs (New Hampshire’s upper right hand corner for example) and simply provide a see-through image, such as the outline of the state, which is visible from both sides of the card. Rainbow/multi-colored printing requires a high precision of control in color shifts as you look along the ID, which gradually and continuously melt into the next hue. Fine line patterns are present on a good amount of state IDs, and are simply continuous, ultra fine lines, which sometimes overlap, generally making a sort of pattern behind the main information of the ID. Lastly, ghost images are where the main picture for the license is duplicated onto another area of the card. It’s usually used in conjunction with the overlapping data feature, and can use a different shade or tone than the original.
Some Non Visible Features:
Some drivers license and other forms of identification across the country use increasingly difficult to replicate methods, some of which involve the use of lasers. Laser engraving, for example, is, “Information that cannot be mechanically or chemically removed without surface damage to the card. Can be used for photos, characters, bar codes, OCR, etc.”  This is doable with certain, very expensive, printers but it raises the price of the ID quite a bit and is hard to get perfected. Laser perforation (or microprinting) is another feature, as seen on the Texas Driver’s license, tiny perforated holes in the shape of the state, which are defined as “Holes made with a laser beam to form images or objects. The image that is micro-printed is only visible when held up to a light source. It has a tactile feel will conical holes that are larger at the entrance than exit.” A third way states utilize lasers is in embossing, or the use of a laser to emboss an image or data to rise only on one side of the card material. This one is possibly a visible feature, but we included it because the most effective and easiest way of finding well done embossing is just by sliding your finger along the card.
Another feature that would not be visible with the naked eye is holograms. Most states issue driver’s licenses with some form of a hologram on it. In order to see the hologram, you’d have to hold the ID against a uv-light and maybe tilt back and forth. Some common uses are state seals, state flags, or others which are usually small and intricate.
The last important feature to note is an opacity mark, which again needs a light source placed behind the card in order to be seen, and is similar to a watermark. It’s a plastic card that contains a unique translucent mark.
Businesses, especially including bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment centered venues, should invest in effective ID scanners. These typically range from around $400-2000 and vary greatly in quality. The scanners essentially read the data stored on the driver’s license magnetic stripes and display it on a screen. They’re more effective than simply checking for age, but a high quality fake id — and most likely very expensive — fake ID can still be made with enough detail to fool these.
One might think that all of these features used together would be pretty difficult, or even impossible, for a counterfeiter to replicate — however, this is not the case at all. Some of the more complicated methods we talked about such as laser engraving, holographic images which are only present under ultra-violet light, and the ability to emboss text or an image on only one side of the card, make it more challenging to perfect but definitely feasible. These are also more complicated to look for and typically require some extra equipment (such as a UV-light), but we think that paying attention to spotting the most common visual features will stop a large percentage of fraudulent IDs from being used in your bar or business. Learning to read body language can be a final tell in figuring out who is using fraudulent means to gain access, as many college freshman will have a certain nervous air that an experienced bouncer should see.